Valparaiso trailed by eight points with 4:36 to play Sunday afternoon in Horizon League action at Green Bay, but outscored the Phoenix 19-6 the rest of the way to claim a big 84-79 win in league play. The win was the Crusaders’ first in Green Bay since 1991 and ended Valpo’s four-game road trip with a 3-1 record.
“I thought this was a wonderful team victory tonight – we had ten people get in the game and all ten contributed to this come-from-behind win,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We had key plays and key moments coming from a number of different players. It really shows the character of our team, coming back from a tough loss two days ago against Milwaukee to win this game today. I’m just very proud of what this young team has accomplished.”
Troy Cotton capped a 10-2 run with a 3-pointer with 4:36 remaining to push the Phoenix advantage to 73-65, but the Crusaders would score on every possession the rest of the way. Out of a timeout after Cotton’s triple, Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) hit Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) for a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five points.
Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) came up with a steal on the defensive end and got fouled taking it to the basket, hitting the first free throw before missing the second. But Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) knocked the rebound out of bounds off a Green Bay player and took advantage immediately, as McPherson found Johnson on the inbounds pass for a 3-pointer to make it 73-72 Green Bay with 3:44 to play.
The Phoenix missed a shot on its next trip and Johnson went to the foul line on Valpo’s offensive possession, splitting the pair to tie things up at 73. Another Green Bay miss gave the Crusaders a chance to take the lead, and Johnson took full advantage, hitting another triple off a feed from Wood to give Valpo a three-point lead with 2:09 remaining.
Bryquis Perine hit a tough leaning runner to pull the Phoenix back within one with 1:42 to play, but Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) hit Wood for a long jumper to push the lead back to three points. Randy Berry cut the Valpo advantage to 78-77 with 1:03 remaining with a pair of free throws, but again the freshman Kenney made a big play, hitting a turn-around 15-foot jumper to make the lead three points with 44 seconds on the clock.
Broekhoff then came up with Valpo’s biggest defensive play of the game, stuffing Rahmon Fletcher on a shot attempt with 25 seconds left. Wood corralled the rebound and would hit all four of his free throw attempts down the stretch to not let Green Bay any closer than three points as Valpo closed out the big road win.
“The last three and a half minutes of the game was the best basketball we played all day,” said Drew. “Our defense came up with some big stops and our offense was almost perfect in its execution. Ryan’s 3-pointer got us going, then Cory stepped up and hit a couple of big 3-pointers. Brandon [Wood] hit a tough shot and was clutch at the free throw line. Matt stepped up as a freshman and hit a big shot, and then Ryan came up with a big defensive play and also handled the ball well against Green Bay’s press.”
The first half tilted in Green Bay’s favor, as despite the Crusaders shooting 52% from the field in the opening stanza, the Phoenix utilized a 14-for-16 effort from the foul line to take the halftime advantage. It looked like Green Bay would be up 43-32 going into the break after a tough jumper by Perine, but Broekhoff connected on a step-back 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to cut the halftime deficit to eight points.
“Rowdy’s shot at the end of the first half was a big key for us,” said Drew. “Instead of being down 11 going into halftime, we were down just eight, and we felt it was key going into the second half within single digits.”
Just as it did Friday night, Valpo quickly erased the halftime deficit at the start of the second half, as after the Phoenix started the half with a putback basket, the Crusaders reeled off a 13-2 run over a stretch of 2:44 to take the lead. Wood, who scored just five first-half points, posted eight points and an assist during the spurt that gave Valpo a 48-47 lead with 16:13 to play. The Crusaders and Phoenix remained in a tight battle for most of the rest of the game until Green Bay’s run that set up the closing sequence.
Valpo posted its best shooting night of the season, connecting on 27-of-46 (58.7%) from the floor. The Crusaders also continued their marksmanship from behind the arc, hitting on 11-of-22 (50%) from 3-point range in the winning effort.
Five Crusaders finished in double figures on the afternoon, paced by 26 points from Wood, who scored 21 of his points in the second half. Johnson hit on 8-of-10 from the field for 20 points, while McPherson chipped in 11 points and a game-high six assists. Kenney matched his career high of 11 points and also dished out four assists without a turnover, and fellow rookie Broekhoff contributed ten points off the bench.
Green Bay (15-9, 7-5 Horizon) which had won 16 consecutive league home games before falling to Butler Friday night, was paced by 20 points from Troy Cotton. Perine went for 19 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Berry scored 14 and Seth Evans 13. The Phoenix went 29-of-33 (87.9%) from the free throw line for the game, but the Crusaders held GB to just 36% (9-of-25) shooting from the floor in the second half.
Valparaiso (11-12, 6-5 Horizon) plays five of its final seven Horizon League games at home, including three straight starting Thursday night against Detroit. Tipoff is set for 7:05 p.m., and as always, the game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso) and can be seen on the Horizon League Network. Valpo’s athletic website, www.valpoathletics.com, will have links for live audio, video and statistics.